My Network

Headshot Photographer NYC

My good friend Chia Messina is a terrific headshot photographer in NYC.

Chia's been shooting actors headshot and has expanded into advertising and lifestyle photography. I had to laugh when Chia told me recently she'd taken the headshot of the actress Gennifer Goodwin who plays the youngest wife 'Margine' in the HBO series Big Love.

About two months I had a conversation with Chia around social media, blogging and the like. Chia alredy had a site, Twitter account and a Twitpic feed. Unfortunately her site was in Flash wich posed some nasty problems around adding or changing content and wasn't filling her SEO needs at all. I finally talked her into letting me put together a headshot blog that could reallys showcase her photography and let actors who might be potential clients to read a few posts and build up a comfort level before picking up the phone and making a call.

On the plus side she's a photographer. That give her ready access to the kind of images that the rest of us can only dream about and have to buy from iStock.

Fight Club is back.

What's Fight Club?

Fight Club is a networking event (usually dinner) for entrepreneurs and startup CEOs who are interested in building their network. Yeah, there are a number of other events around but Fight club is for startups to network with each other.

Why Fight Club?

Geek Dinners already taken. Besides, it's cooler to tell your wife/staff/buddies that you're going to Fight Club than have to ask strangers directions to the Geek Dinner. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Fight Club is about connecting, not selling.

Fight Club Members are entrepreneurs and business owners who understand that people are not the sum of what they can do for you. We're organized to build introductions and relationships between entrepreneurs outside the regular business environment and without the need to immediately sell to everyone.

Read this post on Horizontal Networking for Entrepreneurs.

If you're smart, and Fight Club Members are, you build relationships that give you access to another network and have other members actively looking out for you.

How you fit in.

Fight Club is small on purpose. We want to offer an environment where people can get to know the 'person' they're talking to, before the business. Anyone can come, you just have to attend with and be invited by an existing Fight Club Member the first time.

Fight Club is not an Old Boys Network.

We're just a bunch of similarly situated guys who value semi-inteligent conversation and understand that expanding your network and being of service is also good business.

Fight Club is also about deal flow.

From time to time I expect Angels from the local community to be involved. Certainly I've found it beneficial.


Business Networking: How to build your personal value.

network.gifBusinesspundit has a post on networking for introverts.

So you're really not much good at networking. You keep a drink in one hand and the other in a pocket. You stand against walls. You avoid direct eye contact. You pretty much suck at it and since you suck at it you hate doing it. You're constantly standing around trying to look pretty and hoping that someone you're interested in meeting will come and talk to you. 

Me too.

It's interesting to watch the dynamics at a networking event. I've attended many but there's often a sense of being disassociated from the main conversations. The worst are the hard sellers.

The Hard Sellers: These guys are there to pitch. For the most part they're talking to themselves. Whenever I'm near a hard seller I'm tuning them right out and trying to scrape them off my shoe asap. The Hard Sellers listen little and talk much. They've done this and that and would appreciate it if you validate their existence by doffing your cap. 

I hate that and respond poorly to it as most people probably do.

Poor networking is usually cause by embarrassment and fear of rejection... hey , it's just like dating. (Here's my eminently readable post on Horizontal Networking)

I have a good friend Chia in NY who's a photographer. She's about 4'8" and 73lbs (I'm 6'3" and 260) Chia used to be an actress before she became a photographer and now she's the most sought after actor photographer in Manhattan.

Chia lives down in the Flat Iron district (The triangle shaped building in Spiderman). A boxing gym opened up next to her building and  Chia thought it would be great exercise to take up boxing. (Here's her boxing photography)

Interestingly, the gym owners thought this was kind of cool so Chia hired a trainer and started hitting a heavy bag. It was a scene straight out of Million Dollar Baby except that Chia was much shorter.

Of course Chia never actually wanted to fight. In fact, the gym ordered her a pair of pink boxing gloves which, I have to say, were really cute.

Anyway, Chia hit like a girl. She'd prance around and make 'hitting' noises while she punched at the air.

Chia wanted to be more serious. She wanted to move and hit like a boxer, not like a girl. When she talked to her trainer he looked at her like she was as stupid as a bag of hammers. "Chia", he said, " Just act like a boxer." That was it... Chia knew how to act and she was a boxer after that.

The point being: It's always something you can act through. If you're not a great networker... act as though you were.

Works for me. 

Horizontal Networking

My current philosophy on horizontal networking for entrepreneurs.

During a three way conversation with my friend Robin Peng, he introduced Fight Club to someone we were talking to as my 'philosophy' of networking. Surprise. I have a philosophy of social networking.


Well, I guess maybe I do.


Networking for it's own sake is usually a waste of time in a business sense. Too often I've found myself with a paper plate and a few edible tidbits, standing around in a group and evaluating the scene to see if there's someone I might be interested in talking too. In general there are lots of people that I don't think I'm interested in talking to because the evaluations I'm making are based on such scant information that I instantly assign them a category or level of interest.  It's a perfectly logical way of attempting to segment those who I think I want to talk to from those I think I don't want to talk to. I have no way of knowing if I'm making a good judgement or not. I might just as easily pass up an opportunity to meet a new friend or business partner.

I'm totally aware that this is always happening to me since I'm usually dressed in tennis shoes and I may potentially have a days worth of beard growth. It's not often (read never) that I wear a suit anymore unless someone died.

So, there I am, plate in hand, attempting to decide who is worth overcoming my inherent reticence and actually introducing myself to. All the while I'm muttering under my breath that I hate these things more than the waxing scene in 40 Year Old Virgin.

Corporate Alliance has some extremely good thoughts on the subject and I'll steal one here: "You just never know who you're talking to." The person who you dropped into the 'of no interest' group might be the wife, husband, business partner, best friend or window washer of someone very important to you or your business. You just never know.

Networking is like farming, not hunting. 


So, what can you do? What should you do? And... how do you do it?

Horizontal Networking

The Problem: You're not part of the networks that you want to be part of.

Everything's an old boys network, even when they're not old, or boys. Want to be part of your kids PTA, it's run by a click. Need to get in touch with Angels, they only want to talk to each other. Trying to get into Harvard Business School, it's easer if you know the dean. Want to sell me advertising space in your magazine, good luck. If you're not in, you're out. So how do you get in?

Groups consolidate into Horizontal Networks.

A horizontal network is made up of members who see themselves as equals in some way. It doesn't mean that they come from the same income bracket or social background, it means that they aggregate around a common perception that they all belong to the same group, even if that perception is fleeting.

Our kids ride horses at the same barn. We graduated from the same school. We speak French. We hate the French. We're related... Whatever . Humans have an innate sense of group that is inherently harsh. If you're in a group, you're one of us. If you're not, you're of no interest at best and we might actually want to invade your country and make you sing our national anthem.

Verticals never network... except in 'Maid in Manhattan'.

That's why groups that try to network what are perceived as two different 'classes' don't work. Just try to have an ongoing vertical networking event where VC's and Angels get together with Entrepreneurs and students. The single Angel who shows will be mobbed and that, as they say, will be the end of that. It's typical that those in the lesser stratum have much more to gain from those in the upper. For the most part, humans don't like to feel that they're offering more than their receiving and it creates 'they want something from me'  tensions that people avoid.

Of Note: Humans have the ability to form around 150 total relationships and no more according to Dunbar's Number. Interesting, military organizations have always been built around these numbers. While there are some people with linked in networks of 500+, it's not really possible to have or maintain that many.

Read: Life with Alacrity's post on Dunbars Number: The group size predicted for modern humans by equation (1) would require as much as 42% of the total time budget to be devoted to social grooming.

Good to know that your aunt Millie is taking up one of your relationship slots.

sm.fightclub.jpgEnter Fight Club: Horizontal Networking for Entrepreneurs

Fight Club is my attempt to build a networking organization that is effective and becomes more valuable over time and, most importantly, where people will extend their networks to you. To do that It needs to have some intrinsic characteristics: It's horizontal on one axis and, it's moderated by invitation. Here are the requirements.

Interestingly, the horizontal metric we use is this: Requirement #1: You have to run a real company. No vendors. No students. No sales.

This is somewhat flexible but it's something of a screening process since any group of business decision makers is a prime target for infiltration by sales guys in disguise.

It's easy enough to get around rule #1, you just need to be invited by someone who's already a member and willing to bring you. We don't want to really be elitist after all. I've even invited a lawyer. If someone want's to attend, they just have to get a member to bring them. If they're a dud, it's the member who has to endure the taunts for pissing in the pool.

So what happens at Fight Club?

First: Time.
Since Fight Club is held over a meal at a restaurant, you actually spend time with a group of people that are in this horizontal network. The time factor is of prime importance because its social interaction over time that builds trusted relationships. Fight Club events have no time limits. One went on for at least five hours.

Second: Quality. We're there for the same goal, but there is a level of trust since we ask each member to refrain from selling. This has never really been a problem since the members are all aware (mostly) of this and there's peer pressure to conform and maintain this standard. The no selling rule creates an atmosphere where you're not asking or giving business cards right out of the chute. Business is the main topic but I'm also informed about Bob Barnes search for a wife and Ryan Money's hair fiasco.

Third: Trust. If someone I know from Fight Club calls my front desk, I'll return the call. Since we now belong to the same 'network' I know that there is a social factor as well as an economic one that goes into this person's decision making. He has to maintain a level of trust with me or he runs the potential that I'll inform his nefarious deeds to the group and he'll be impacted far out of proportion to the misdeed. (Think how protective those eBay sellers are of their feedback rating.) 

Four: Fun & Easy. Since the group constantly changes (we have no fees or RSVP. If you come, you come. If you don't, you don't.) So the second time you attend, you're already going to know at least a few people and there's no wall flowers. Here's Judd Bagleys review after his first dinner.

"Sweet Sassy Mollassie! That was one of the best times I've had with a bunch of dudes. Seriously, dinner lasted like four hours but could have gone on for ten, as good as the conversation was. I'm hooked on Fight Club. Thank you Jeff for organizing it. I intend to challenge Ryan Coombs for control of the Billy Barty Memorial Knock-out Hernia Belt. What an honor."

The easy part is this: Come if you want, don't if you don't. There's no fees, dues, or need to respond to anything at all. Once you're on the email list, you're notified where and when the events are taking place. That's it.

 Five: Entrepreneurs should be networking with other entrepreneurs, not trying to finagle into the Angel & VC community's. Networking with other entrepreneurs provides you with access and information that benefits you far more than chasing other networks. Why? Entrepreneurs know more, provide many more options, and are much freer with their time. Other entrepreneurs can provide you with inside info about an VC's reputation as well as introductions. You benefit from a much wider net.

We'll, there it is. My philosophy on networking... for the time being. 

Design Engine: Robin Peng builds really cool things.

I met Robin Peng at a networking event this week and we immediately hit it off. Robin runs Design Engine, an industrial design shop where they're working on some stuff that just blew my socks off. (He let me play around with a 3D modeling tool that gives feedback. You can lift, move, bounce anything in the environment and actually 'feel' the differing weight. It was mindblowing.) I really liked the parachute Hummer that they designed for the Army. Rob made me sign a couple of non-disclosures so I can't tell you what they're up to except that you'll be seeing some of it soon. I didn't get home until 2 a.m..


Robin went to Art Center at the same time I was at USU. At the time (84-88) USU had one of the best illustration programs in the country and we'd bus down to LA in the summer to meet people. Art Center was always on the list. It was eye-opening to pull the bus into the parking lot and see that the students were driving BMW's and Lamborgini's. They'd rent Tigers from the Zoo for drawing classes. It was another world. We did kick their ass thought, at least in the illustration department.

Rob came out of the auto design program and was hired by Ford's Advanced Concept division. He's a 'Golden Child' in the best sense of the word. He's also just a great, genuine guy who I immediately trusted. I've set up a meeting with his team Monday to show the some medical laser & IPL technology that I'm in the process of turning into a business.

I'm adding Robin to the Fight Club list so you might meet him there.